Russell County was originally part of a large sea that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. As the Rocky Mountains rose, the sea slowly disappeared.

Several Native American tribes inhabited Russell County, although there were no permanent villages here.

Francisco Vasquez Coronado was the earliest white man to explore Russell County in 1541, followed by many others, including Zebulon Pike, whose mapping expedition in 1806 resulted in the discovery of Pikes Peak.

In the mid-1800's, forts were established along the Kansas, Smoky Hill, and Saline Rivers. To the east of Russell was Fort Ellsworth (Fort Harker). To the west was Fort Fletcher (old Fort Hays).

In April 1871, a colony of about 60 families from Ripon, Wisconsin, migrated to Fossil Station, near the end of the line on the Union Pacific Railroad. When Fossil Station incorporated, the state changed the name from Fossil Station to Russell, after a Civil War veteran who never saw his namesake.

Early settlers quarried rock from rocky outcrops of limestone in Russell County. They used the stone as fence posts and building material. The stone, when freshly quarried, is soft enough to be sawed, drilled, or shaped with hand tools. After prolonged exposure to the elements, it hardens and becomes weather resistant. The miles of stone fenceposts in this area have become a hallmark.

Early settlers included many Easterners, as well as immigrants, primarily from Great Britain and the Germanic countries (especially Volga Germans from Russia). These settlers were later joined by many from Oklahoma and Texas who came to work in the oil boom of the 1920s and 1930s.

Russell is the boyhood home of two United States Senators -- Robert Dole and Arlen Specter.

From William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, published in 1883 by A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL.

Russell County is one of the central counties of Kansas, it being two hundred and forty-four miles from the Missouri River to the east line of the county, and one hundred and ninty-two (sic) miles from the east line of the county to the west line of the State. A line drawn through the center of the State, from east to west, would pass about three miles south of the south line of the county. The county is bounded on the north by Osborne County, on the south by Barton, on the east by Ellsworth and Lincoln counties, and on the west by Ellis County. The county contains 576,000 acres, or 900 square miles, and is divided into eight civil, or municipal, townships, those of Paradise and Fairview embracing nearly the northern half of the county, the other portion being divided into six townships of very unequal size. The county is governed by a Board of three Commissioners, who are elected for three years, and is so arranged that one is elected each year. That all portions of the county may be fairly represented on the Board, the county is divided into three Commissioner Districts, and the election of each Commissioner is confined to the Electors of the District in which he resides.

To all intents and purposes, Russell is a prairie county, and for miles and miles, not a sign of a tree or bush can be seen., Standing upon the highest point in the vicinity of the county seat, which is located very near the geographical center of the county, one sees nothing but a wide extent of prairie to the north, south, east and west, with nothing to break the monotony of the view, but a house here and there at long intervals. Stretch the vision to the farthest extent, and one will look in vain to catch a glimpse of a tree. The prairie appears almost as level as the surface of a lake, except that its undulations can be observed rising and falling like the gentle swells of a rising tide. While the general surface presents this appearance to the eye of a person occupying a central position in the county, he will, by a personal survey, discover considerable bluffs in various portions, but chiefly along the Saline River and Salt Creek. The bluffs along these stream (sic) are very high and broken, some reaching an altitude of four hundred feet. Most of the other creeks have very high, steep banks, but not bluffy, as the land extends away from the streams in wide stretches of beautiful upland.

The surface of the county presents no diversity of scenery, except that on Paradise Creek, and Wolf Creek and its branches, in the northern portion of the county, there is some timber, and a little on some of the creeks in the extreme south of the county. The center of the county from east to west is high table land, sloping towards the Smoky Hill River on the south and towards the Saline River on the north. These two rivers run parallel to each other across the county from west to east, at an average distance from each other of about twelve miles, except at the extreme west of the county, where the distance between the rivers is about twenty miles, the Smoky entering the county about two miles north of the southwest corner, and the Saline about six miles south of the northwest corner. After entering the county the Saline runs southeast about seven miles, and the Smoky about seven miles northeast, after which the course of both rivers is almost due east.

The Saline and Smoky are the principal streams in the county, each having several tributaries. Paradise and Wolf creeks are the northern feeders of the Saline, and Salt and Cedar creeks feed it from the south. The tributaries to the Smoky from the north are Big and Fossil creeks, and from the south Langdon, Sellers, Wright, Beaver and Walnut creeks. The Saline and Smoky are almost completely destitute of timber, and that along the other creeks is chiefly confined to long, narrow strips that fringe the streams. The prevailing varieties are cottonwood, elm, ash, and willow, but oak, cedar, and black walnut are found on Paradise Creek. Most of the streams have narrow stretches of bottom land, or valley, on either side, varying from a half to three miles wide. In some portions of the county, but more particularly along the divide between the Saline and Smoky Hill rivers, it is extremely difficult to find well water fit for drinking or domestic purposes, but in others excellent water can be had at a depth of from 15 to 30 feet.

The character of the upland soil is a black loam, and of considerable depth, ranging from three to eight feet, and upwards. The soil of the valleys of the Saline and Smoky is also a black loam, but mixed with a good deal of sand. With anything like ordinary rains all kinds of cereals are of easy cultivation, but the county cannot be relied upon for agricultural purposes, owing to the scarcity and uncertainty of rain. Seasons in which there is a reasonable rainfall, excellent crops are assured, and some immense yields of wheat have been produced in the county. Wheat is more certain than corn, as the spring rains are, generally, sufficient to mature a crop of some kind, but the months when rain is required to make a corn crop are usually the driest, and hence this crop is generally short and very uncertain. As an agricultural county, however, no superior advantages are claimed for it, although there are some very highly improved farms in the county. It may be justly claimed for it, however, that for stock and sheep-raising purposes its advantages are excellent, and these industries are commencing to receive a good deal of attention. There are not, however, a great variety of grasses in the county, the greater portion of the county producing no other kind than buffalo grass. Along the creeks and in the ravines are about the only places where prairie grass for mowing purposes can be found. Hay, however, is not an indispensable article, as but very little of it is necessary for feeding purposes, the buffalo grass furnishing ample grazing through both summer and winter. This buffalo grass grows to about four or six inches in height, and curls over towards the ground forming a regular matting all over the prairie. The characteristic of the grass, is that the bottom grass is always green and fresh, and cattle and sheep can always find plenty to eat. This is one of the great advantages that Russell County has as a stock-raising county. Some attempts have been made at upland farming in the county with more or less success, according to the character of the season, wheat being the principal crop. One great drawback to this kind of farming is the difficulty experienced in finding water for domestic uses, it having in most cases, to be hauled in barrels a distance of two or three miles. Some people have cisterns built of greater or smaller capacity which they fill from distant springs or wells, while others haul daily what they use. This difficulty in finding good water for domestic purposes is one of the great disadvantages to be contended against in upland farming.

The only thing in the shape of mineral yet discovered in the county has been coal, and this has been found, and is being minded, in different portions of the county. It is of rather inferior quality, and is of that kind known as lignite. It possesses none of that brilliancy that characterizes the anthracite and bituminous coal of other States, but yet it burns well and throws out good heat. No happier discovery could have been made for the people, as ninety-nine per cent of the county is destitute of timber. Sufficient developments have not yet been made to establish to a certainty whether the coal deposits exist to any great extent, but the amount mined keeps increasing each year, and each year new banks are opened. The veins yet found run from one and one half to three feet in depth, and the quality of some is much superior to that of others. There are, at the present time, eleven banks worked in different portions of the county, nine by drifting, and two by shaft. Holland Bros.' mine is located in the south center of the county, between the line of the Kansas Pacific Railway and theSmoky Hill River, and is operated by means of a shaft, which is sixty-five feet in depth. Marsh's mine, just south of this, is also operated in the same manner, the shaft being one hundred and three feet deep. All the others are worked by drifting in from the face of the bluffs. These banks are located in various parts of the county, two being located almost at the east line, in the vicinity of Wilson, one at Blue Stem, in the northeast, one in the southwest, near the mouth of Big Creek, one on the Saline, about five miles northeast of Bunker Hill, one a few miles southwest of Russell, one northwest of Russell, and three in the south center of the county, and by being thus distributed, fuel isbrought within easy reach of every settler in the county. The price of the coal at the banks is $2.50 and $3.00 per ton. In 1878, the coal mined in Russell County was only five hundred tons, whereas, the statistical record in the office of the County Clerk shows, that in 1882, the amount mined was six thousand one hundred and seventy-five tons, being a little over a ton for every man, woman, and child in thecounty.

There are some excellent salt springs in the county, but, as yet, no attempts have been made to utilize them. There is an abundance of stone in the county, well adapted for building purposes and flagging. There is a good deal of limestone of fair quality, the greater portion of which is to be found in the western portion of the county, although it is not confined to that particular locality. In building, the limestone is only used for corners, caps and sills, the walls of the building being made of a soft kind of stone strongly resembling solidified clay. It is of a yellowish color and is entirely free from grit, and can be cut with a knife just like chalk. In nearly every place where there is a depression in the surface of the soil this stone crops out. The stone is quarried in layers and is taken out of the ground in large squares, after which they are sawed and dressed into blocks about the size of an ordinary brick, or larger, according to the taste of the person who is going to build. For building purposes it is excellent, being both beautiful and durable.

1880 POPULATION BY FEDERAL CENSUS.(Organized in 1872.)

Big Creek Township ............................ 846
Center Township ............................... 1,619
Fairview Township ............................. 1,228
Paradise Township ................................ 584
Plymouth Township ............................. 1,073
Russell Township, including Russell City 2,001
Total -----------------------------------------7,351

Russell City .................................. 861

In 1870, the population of the county was 156, and this was confined entirely to a small locality in the neighborhood of the coal banks on the Smoky at the eastern line of the county. The population at that time was composed of men who were brought to the county for the purpose of opening up coal mines, and outside of these there was not a settler in the county at the time the census was taken in 1870. By 1875, the population had increased to 1,212, and by 1878 it had reached 3,239. The years of 1878-79, were remarkable for the immense emigration that came to the county, and the United States census for 1880, shows the population at that time to have been 7,321. Since that time, however, the population of the county has been gradually and constantly decreasing, until 1882, according to the assessors' returns for that year, the population of the county had fallen to 5,950. These are the figures regarding population that appear on the statististical (sic) record for 1882, as found in the office of the County Clerk, although it is maintained by many that the figures are not correct, and that the population is much greater.

Prior to 1872 no attempt had been made at farming in the county. Up to that time the soil remained in its primitive state, not a single furrow having been turned over by the plow. The first real attempt at genuine farming was made by Luther Landon, who moved out in the summer of 1871, and located on a claim in the southern part of the county, on what is now known as Landon's Creek, where he erected a stone house, and turned over some prairie, most of which he planted to corn the following year. Others followed in 1873 and 1874, but the grasshoppers in the latter year destroyed the promising prospect.

There were in the county in 1882, 48,498 rods of fence constructed of material as follows: Board fence, 1,022 rods; rail, 275; stone, 4,061; hedge, 5,165; and wire, 37,975. This amount of fence would enclose 152 square miles, less a fraction, or an area equal to about one-sixth of the entire county. The agricultural implements in the county were valued at $48,679. While these statistics do not show any wonderful advancement in material growth, they are yet far from discouraging; and when it is borne in mind that only eleven years have elapsed since the first settlement was made in the county, the degree of prosperity that has been attained by the settlers give them good grounds on which to found hopes for a prosperous future.

There are, virtually, no manufacturing establishments in the county except flouring-mills. Of these there are five, one at Russell, built by Ames, Chisholm & King in 1875. It is quite a large stone mill and is operated by steam-power. The mill is valued at $25,000.

The next mill was erected in the county in 1878, by Edgar Nichols, and is located on the Smoky, about five miles south of Bunker Hill. It is a small water mill, and was put up at a cost of about $6,000.

The Fairport Mills were the next erected, and these were built in 1879, by Knight & Bradshaw. The mills are operated by both steam and water-power. They are located on the Saline River, about twelve miles northwest of Russell. The building is of stone, three stories high, with a basement, and was put up at a cost of about $12,000.

In 1882 Moore & Sons put up a fine stone flouring-mill at Bunker Hill, at a cost of $18,000. It is operated by steam-power. The Farmers' Mill was also built in 1882, by L. D. Smith & Son. It is three stories high, the two lower ones being stone and the upper one frame. This mill is located on the Smoky, about three-fourths of a mile from the mouth of Big Creek, and ten miles southwest of Russell.

The only other manufacturing establishment of any kind in the county, is Hilder's Broom Factory at Russell. It is not very extensive, but gives employment to three or four hands, and besides supplying the Russell market, ships a great many brooms to other portions of the county and adjoining counties.

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